Morning Alert   -   Monday, October 25, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the results of Sunday’s Upper House by-elections in Yamaguchi and Shizuoka (NHK), the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants in Tokyo, Osaka, and three other prefectures today (NTV), Japanese swimmer Hagino Kosuke’s retirement announcement on Sunday (TBS), a flurry of TikTok movies featuring cross-eyed faces (Fuji TV), and Japanese golfer Matsuyama Hideki’s victory in the Zozo Championship on Sunday, his first PGA title on Japanese soil (TV Asahi).

Top stories in national dailies included the results of Sunday’s two Upper House by-elections (Asahi, Yomiuri, Sankei), the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants (Mainichi), and educational reform in Japan (Nikkei).


LDP wins Yamaguchi but loses Shizuoka in Upper House by-elections

All Monday papers reported on the results of Sunday’s House of Councillors by-elections in Yamaguchi and Shizuoka. In Yamaguchi, the LDP’s former Parliamentary Vice Trade and Industry Minister Kitamura Tsuneo won by a large margin, but in Shizuoka, Yamazaki Shinnosuke, an independent candidate backed by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and the Democratic Party for the People, won a close race against Wakabayashi Yohei of the LDP.

The papers wrote that the LDP candidate’s defeat in Shizuoka will deal a blow to the LDP and Prime Minister Kishida because the two by-elections were the first national contests since Kishida became LDP president and were seen as a bellwether for the Lower House election next Sunday. The LDP was expected to win both seats. The papers wrote that the opposition’s victory in Shizuoka will likely give it a boost. The LDP is reportedly becoming increasing concerned that the launch of the Kishida administration may not give a sufficient push to LDP candidates despite the premier’s messages on stronger measures against COVID-19 and a "new form of capitalism" that will put the country on a growth track while redistributing wealth.

According to a Yomiuri exit poll conducted on Sunday in Shizuoka, while 80% of LDP supporters voted for the LDP candidate, about 20% voted for his opposition rival. However, about 90% of CDPJ supporters cast votes for the party candidate. Among non-affiliated voters, 70% voted for the CDPJ candidate, while 20% voted for the LDP one.


Kishida expresses resolve to achieve free and open Indo-Pacific with President Biden

Saturday evening’s Nikkei wrote that Prime Minister Kishida stated in a video message shown at the annual Mount Fuji Dialogue held in Tokyo on Saturday that he will strategically promote the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific in cooperation with President Biden and will elevate the U.S.-Japan alliance to a higher level. Kishida also said the world is facing many challenges, including an increasingly harsh regional security environment; events that threaten universal values such as freedom, democracy, and human rights; and global issues such as climate change and the novel coronavirus.

In a video message for the same conference, Foreign Minister Motegi reportedly said it is important for the United States to be engaged in creating a regional economic order, including by returning to the negotiating table for the TPP. LDP Secretary General Amari also said in a video message that Japan needs to develop strategies to prevent technology outflow to foreign countries and that he is calling on companies to have board members in charge of economic security.

MOFA posts YouTube video rebutting ROK’s insistence on use of “East Sea”

Saturday’s Mainichi, Asahi, and Sankei wrote that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released on Friday a four-minute YouTube video in nine languages, including Japanese, Korean, and Arabic, to rebut South Korea’s assertion that the body of water between Japan and the Korean Peninsula should be called “East Sea” instead of the “Sea of Japan.” The ministry released an English-language video on the issue in August. Mainichi wrote that the video is aimed at expanding international understanding for Japan’s position that “Sea of Japan” is the only internationally established name for the body of water. The paper noted that the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command used the name “East Sea” in a statement it issued on North Korea’s missile launch in March and retracted the term at the request of the Japanese government.

G7 to work toward eliminating forced labor with China in mind

The Sunday editions of all national dailies wrote that the trade ministers of the G7 nations agreed on Friday to work together to eliminate forced labor from global supply chains and shared concern over state-sponsored forced labor of vulnerable groups and minorities. The papers wrote that although the trade ministers did not mention China by name, they had China’s treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in mind. The ministers said in a joint statement issued after their virtual meeting hosted by the UK that about 25 million people worldwide are subject to forced labor and there is no place for forced labor in the rules-based multilateral trading system. This was the first time for the G7 nations to issue a joint statement on forced labor.

Yomiuri wrote that Japan will need to develop new rules for the private sector because it is lagging behind moves by the United States and some European countries to obligate private companies to take measures against forced labor. Japan's Trade Minister Hagiuda told reporters after the meeting that a new team will be set up within his ministry to address the issue.

U.S., Taiwan officials discuss Taiwan’s participation in international organizations

Monday’s Sankei wrote from Washington that the Department of State announced on Saturday that it held an online meeting with Taiwanese officials on Friday to discuss the possibility of Taiwan expanding its participation in the UN and other international organizations. The paper speculated that although the United States has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the Biden administration intends to support the region’s expanded participation in international organizations. According to the State Department, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Yon and Deputy Assistant Secretary for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia Waters participated in the discussion. The paper wrote that the U.S. side reportedly stressed its support for Taiwan’s participation in the WHO and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.


U.S. expects Japan to increase defense spending

In a series analyzing the issues being discussed during the campaign for the Oct. 31 general election, Sunday’s Nikkei took up Japan’s defense budget, saying that although the LDP has suggested an increase in defense spending from the current 1% of GDP to 2% in its election platform, it has failed to deepen discussion on the matter.

The paper asserted that calls from the United States for Japan to boost its defense spending have been growing due to changes in the military balance in East Asia as a result of the sevenfold increase in China’s defense spending over the past 20 years. The paper wrote that Rahm Emanuel, President Biden's pick for the next U.S. Ambassador to Japan, said at his Senate confirmation hearing on Oct. 20, the day after the campaign for the general election started in Japan, that an increase in Japan’s defense spending is critically important for the U.S.-Japan alliance. Noting that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Harvard emeritus professor Joseph Nye said at a symposium co-hosted by Nikkei and the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Friday that an increase in Japan’s defense spending would be "healthy" and “a very good idea," the paper expressed the view that these statements reflect the United States’ expectations for Japan to increase its defense spending despite a lack of urgency for discussions on the matter in Japan.

According to the Ministry of Defense, Japan’s defense spending per capita in fiscal 2020 was about 40,000 yen ($352) compared with 220,00 yen ($1,762) in the United States, 120,000 yen ($1,057) in South Korea and Australia, 80,000 yen ($705) in Germany, and 90,000 yen ($793) in the UK. However, the paper wrote that it may be difficult for the GOJ to immediately secure the necessary funding to beef up the nation’s defense capabilities because spending for social security and government bond redemption takes up more than half of all government spending and limits the amount of money available for other spending. The paper wrote that it will be necessary for the nation to drastically review its budget allocations.

Chinese, Russian warships pass through Osumi Strait

Sunday’s Yomiuri, Nikkei, and Sankei wrote that the Ministry of Defense announced on Saturday that the ten Chinese and Russian navy vessels that passed through the Tsugaru Strait on Oct. 18 also passed through the Osumi Strait located between Cape Sata and Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture toward the East China Sea on Oct. 22. This was the first time for the ministry to confirm a flotilla of Chinese and Russian vessels transiting the strait. According to the SDF Joint Staff Office, a fleet of five Chinese and five Russian navy vessels passed through the Tsugaru Strait on Oct. 18 to go from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific and later traveled southward through waters between Smith Island and Torishima Island of the Izu Islands. Although the flotilla passed through the Osumi Strait, it did not enter Japan’s territorial waters. The ASDF scrambled fighter jets in response to a Chinese vessel’s helicopter landing and takeoff operations in the area 130 km south-southeast of the Danjo Islands in Nagasaki Prefecture on Saturday morning.

Sankei speculated that the recent multinational exercises involving the United States, Japan, the UK, and Australia conducted in areas near Japan may have prompted China and Russia to take “unusual” actions. The paper added that some have noted that although there is no problem with foreign vessels transiting the Osumi Strait or the Tsugaru Strait in view of international law because these are international waters, the circling of the Japanese archipelago by Chinese and Russian vessels may have been intended to counter the recent joint exercises by Japan and its security partners.

Yomiuri and Nikkei wrote that China’s Ministry of National Defense announced on Saturday that the navies of China and Russia jointly conducted patrols from Oct. 17-23. The Chinese said that a total of 10 vessels and 6 combat helicopters participated in the operations that were conducted in the Sea of Japan, the Western Pacific, and the East China Sea, but they abided by international laws and did not enter the territorial waters of other nations. They also conducted exercises using weapons. Sankei wrote that Russia’s Ministry of Defense separately announced on Saturday that it conducted joint patrol operations together with the Chinese from Oct. 17 through 23 in the Western Pacific, saying that the purpose of the patrols was to maintain the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific.

Japanese analysis shows one of two DPRK SLBMs used solid fuel

Saturday’s Sankei wrote that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Isozaki told reporters on Friday that Japan believes that based on its analysis, one of the two submarine-launched ballistic missiles fired by North Korea on Oct. 19 used solid fuel. Isozaki added that Japan will consider all possible options for enhancing its defense capabilities, including the ability to attack enemy bases, because North Korean SLBMs pose a serious threat to Japan’s security.


Cabinet approves plan to double renewable energy by 2030

The Saturday editions of all national dailies reported on the GOJ’s approval at a cabinet meeting on Friday of its new basic energy plan, which pledges that Japan will make a maximum effort to use more renewable energy. The plan includes a goal of increasing the use of renewable energy to 36–38% of total power generation capacity by fiscal 2030, more than double the 18% recorded in fiscal 2019. As for nuclear power, the percentage will be increased to 20–22% in fiscal 2030 under the plan. The figure in fiscal 2019 was 6% because many nuclear plants across the country remained offline due to the stricter safety regulations introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The amount of energy coming from thermal power sources will be reduced from 76% in fiscal 2019 to 41%. The Cabinet also approved a government plan to combat global warming that stipulates a range of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by fiscal 2030 from fiscal 2013 levels.

Mainichi wrote that Japan’s plan to continue using thermal power in fiscal 2030 may draw criticism at the COP26 meeting to be held in Glasgow starting on Oct. 31 because the UK, the host of the conference, has announced a plan to end its use of thermal power by 2024 and France and Germany have also announced plans to terminate thermal power generation in the future.

Kishida making plans to attend COP26

Saturday’s Yomiuri wrote that Prime Minister Kishida is making arrangements to attend the COP26 meeting to be held in Glasgow starting on Oct. 31. The paper wrote that Kishida is exploring the possibility of attending a leaders’ meeting slated for Nov. 1-2 and holding bilateral talks with British Prime Minister Johnson on the sidelines. However, Kishida may forgo traveling to the UK depending on the results of the general election on Oct. 31. A senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official reportedly told the paper that the prime minister’s absence from the leaders’ meeting could give other nations the impression that Japan is not taking climate change seriously.

Monday’s Nikkei wrote that the COP26 meeting may pose a challenge for Japan because although the UK, the host of the conference, is hoping to take up the early suspension of coal-fired power generation as a key agenda item, Japan plans to depend on coal-fired power generation for about 20% of its total power generation capacity in fiscal 2030. Sankei wrote that according to the U.S. media, President Biden is planning to attend COP26 together with more than ten senior officials, including Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of the Treasury Yellen, and deliver a speech there to “demonstrate” the United States’ government-wide efforts to combat climate change. The paper speculated that the President wants the U.S., not China, to lead in establishing rules for measures to deal with climate change and environmental protection.


Scholars urge Japan to resume issuing visas to international students

Saturday’s Asahi and Mainichi wrote that a total of 656 academics and students from universities in the United States and other countries on Thursday submitted a petition to the Japanese Consulate General in New York calling on the Japanese government to resume issuing student and research visas, a process currently suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic. The petition said that the ban on new visas "has eroded global relationships and the reputations of Japan's educational institutions." The petition also said: "While Japan has started sending its students and researchers abroad, the country does not receive students and researchers. The lack of reciprocity damages carefully cultivated partnerships between Japanese universities and schools in other countries.”

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team